Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Anger Issues

When I was in my intern year, one of my attendings named Dr. Pasture informed me that I had anger issues.

Dr. Pasture was leading a small group exercise where another intern was playing the doctor and I was playing a difficult patient. I had fun with it and tried to be a difficult patient to the best of my acting ability, laying it on as thick as I could. I was later presented with an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. (Just kidding, I only got a Golden Globe.)

I noticed that during the role-playing, the other intern started getting flustered to the point where I felt a little guilty. So after we were done, I laughingly apologized.

Later that day, I had a clinic with Dr. Pasture. While I was in his office, he said to me, "I want to talk to you about something, Fizzy."

That didn't sound good. I immediately started to panic. "What is it?"

"You know," he said, "it's okay to get angry. If you felt a need to apologize for yelling during that role playing, I suspect you never show any anger. I just wanted you to know that it's okay to get angry at people."

That was the last thing I had expected him to say. At first, I was just baffled. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was kind of right.

I do get angry, of course, but I never, ever yell. Or even snap at people. I don't even do it in my own home, because both my husband and daughter are exceedingly sensitive. As an example, a few nights ago, my daughter spilled a big cup of water everywhere after I warned her to be careful... all I did was say her name sharply, and she ran crying to the closet and hid in a suitcase. So I've kind of trained myself never to yell.

But what's so bad about that?

My husband showed me some study (I'm too lazy to find the reference) where women who didn't vent their anger at their husbands had a shorter life expectancy. I'm not entirely sure why he'd show me a study that would encourage me to yell at him more, but I guess he felt concerned that I was angry at him sometimes and just not expressing it. I'd argue that while I may not yell, I do other great wifely things, like whine, complain, and nag. I certainly don't walk around constantly feeling angry at my husband. And I vent a lot of my frustrations through writing.

Then again, I do sometimes find it hard to let go of things. Every now and then, I compose rants in my head directed at people who I feel wronged me years ago, thinking about what I wish I'd said to them. ("The jerk store called and they're running out of YOU!") Am I the only one who does that? It doesn't feel particularly healthy.

I'm not sure what to think. I don't particularly like people who yell a lot. I tend to think they have poor control over their emotions. But who's more likely to have the early coronary, me or them?


  1. Wow. You never yell or snap? I think of myself as a pretty cool-headed mom, but my daughter can drive me to go there, at times. Maybe because she is older, and at 7, is already acting like a teenager.

    My son is a lot more sensitive - he can melt into tears when I lose my cool. So I don't do it as often with him.

    I didn't yell much in my 13 year marriage. Maybe it would have worked better if I did. Next time (ha!) there will be lots of yelling:)

    I think everyone muddles in their head about what they might have said in the past - not so unhealthy, as long as it doesn't consume you.

    Seriously, I don't like yelling either. In lots of parenting circles, they say yelling is the new spanking. I'm not sure it's any better or worse - just different. I try not to do it too much. And yelling at work - very immature, I agree. I would be quite surprised if those prone to yelling to get their way ended up with a better bill of health.

  2. It's funny cuz soon after I posted this, I was putting my daughter to bed (too late, as usual), and just as soon as the lights were out, she said, "I'm hungry." And I snapped, "It's too late! Go to sleep!" And she immediately burst into tears and said, "I don't like it when you yell at me. Now you're making me cry." I don't know if this is a typical child response to getting yelled at, but it always breaks my heart.

  3. Apparently I will be living until 110. (Definitely a yeller, but I usually get over things very quickly.)

    I'm surprised you got that feedback in the hospital though. My understanding is that yelling is one of those things one doesn't do as a doctor (unless you're a surgeon -- hehe).

  4. OMDG: I know, I was surprised too. And Dr. Pasture was one of those really sensitive attendings who I can't even imagine yelling.

  5. Maybe he (Dr P) was joking? But seriously, I don't yell at work nor do I find any occasion to yell amongst adults or with any family members other than my own children, ugh, but I do find myself yelling at home in the context of parenting and I don't like myself for that. I could consider it a New Year's resolution (Chinese New Year?) or maybe even just a daily resolution that I need to make for myself. Because my daughter yells, a lot. Nature or nurture...

  6. T: He wasn't joking. The whole thing was very serious. If he was joking, he definitely forgot to fill me in on the punchline.

  7. I'm not sure who is more likely to have the premature cardiac death--the yellers or the non-yellers--but I think you get your share of ranting and retorts out on MiM. I would reassure your attdg and your husband that you definitely have an outlet, it just doesn't seem to be yelling. Or at least not out loud anyway!

  8. My husband tells me the same thing, that I need to express my frustrations at him more often, and in the moment. I don't get why he'd want me to yell at him right then rather than wait a couple hours and then be able to just passingly comment about what bugged me. Weird men.

    I think that is so cute there your girl hid in a suitcase.

  9. Tempeh: It's weird that I get way more fired up over things online than I do over events that happen irl, possibly in an unhealthy way. I feel like people are willing to be much more rude online and attack you than they are irl, sort of like being an asshole when driving. Or sometimes I'll get a comment or an email, and the writer comes off as incredibly patronizing or something without even meaning to and since I don't know the person and can't see them smile or wink, it ends up causing more resentment than it should. For that reason, the internet is kind of a bad way to socially interact. I should probably just vent in a paper diary.

    Brit: It IS really cute. I don't know whether to feel bad or laugh.

  10. Fizzy,
    I love this post. Particularly because I am a bit fiesty and I truly admire those who can keep their cool much better than me (and yes, fulfilling the above-mentioned stereotype--I am a general surgeon!)
    Anyway, I need a copy of that article--I must show that to my husband!

    I wonder if Dr. P meant not neccessarily yelling, but "showing anger" in other ways (expressing that you are visibly upset or angered without yelling)??

    I am sure my husband would like it if I could keep my cool more often than not. But he also says that he would rather I didn't go around storing it all up and feeling resentful.

    I don't think there is a right way to be with anger. Just like everything else, there must be a balance--like if you don't ever show it, that is a problem, and if you explode all the time (especially at work) then that is obviously not a good thing, either.

  11. It is one of my New Years resolutions to find better ways to handle anger and more often frustration. I feel really bad after I yell at home particularly when I work so hard not to yell at work. I have seen my oldest yelling and I realized how much of a model we can be, good and bad. So far so good this week.It can be a battle after a long day at work. But from what I have read, I think you have your outlet here Fizzy. No worries about heart problems for you!.

  12. I grew up the daughter of two angry yellers. Once my mom found where my brother had scribbled "parents fight in the night" somewhere when he was probably six. She cried and cried about that. I can see qualities in both my brother and myself that I believe stem from those years of yelling.

    Yelling may benefit you and your health, but I guarantee it'll hurt your kids'.

  13. As a bus driver, I tend to let alot of the abuse from parents/kids, and elderly roll right off my shoulders. But, there have been a few times where my anger has had me seeing red for a few days because something just hit that nerve just right. I have yet to figure out how to deal with that rage/anger in a safe manner without hurting myself or the person who triggered it in the first place.

  14. In his excellent book, "When the body says no" Gabor Mate discusses both women who suppress their emotional responses (and the links to illness that arise from such unresolved emotional conflict) and various forms of anger. I recommend the book to anyone, especially medical people...

    Anyway, he speaks of two forms of anger: true anger which is a natural response to a threat and/or a boundary violation, and histrionic "anger" which is in essence a fear response based in deep-seated fears of rejection. True anger, according to Mate, results in empowerment, and the body's physiological response to it is energizing and strengthening. He uses the example of someone who is truly enraged; their physical posture is likely to be very open, grounded, and strong.

    The kind of angry outburst that results in screaming and violence is much more related to fear; the physical posture is much more likely to be closed, their muscles are tense, and the energy feels very much out of control.

    Your story interests me, because as a trained actor, I have done many such improvised exercises. It is very possible to achieve some insight into how you process negative emotions through such an exercise. I suspect your preceptor was worried that you were operating under a subconscious fear of rejection, and as a result, didn't feel free to experience and express negative emotion.

  15. Thanks for information,
    I am sure my husband would like it if I could keep my cool more often than not. But he also says that he would rather I didn't go around storing it all up and feeling resentful.


Comments on posts older than 14 days are moderated as a spam precaution. So.Much.Spam.